In the uncertainty of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Colon Cancer Coalition recommends that anyone currently living with symptoms of colorectal cancer and patients experiencing treatment delays should not assume that care is unavailable. Individuals experiencing blood in their stool, significant unexplained weight loss, or changes in bowel habits, among other symptoms, should talk about their concerns with a physician. We also advise colorectal cancer patients currently living with treatment delays advocate for themselves with their care team.
We support the action of health care facilities across the country to defer elective screening colonoscopies, not only to help deploy health care resources to those in greatest need, but also to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for patients and health care providers alike. As elective procedures begin to become more available, it is vitally important, however, for individuals experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer to be proactive and reach out to their providers for help and to find out what care or diagnostic evaluations are appropriate. There are now many telemedicine options available to help determine how urgent your issues may be and what treatment options are appropriate.
In addition to the stress of living through a global health pandemic, the colorectal cancer patient community, like others managing cancer, is experiencing additional anxiety with delays in care and added concerns about their risk of contracting COVID-19. We encourage all cancer patients to talk with their care team about their risk and how a delay in treatment may or may not impact their care and outcomes, and to determine what care can be done through telemedicine without frequent visits to care facilities.
What to discuss with your care team
For individuals experiencing symptoms
- Make a record of your symptoms, including how long you have been experiencing them.
- Write down any risk factors you have, your family history of gastrointestinal disease, etc. Make sure to have these items handy during your telemedicine appointment.
- If a colonoscopy is unavailable to you at this time, ask if an at-home stool-based test is appropriate for your symptoms.
- Determine what the follow-up care will be if the at-home stool-based test comes back with a positive result.
For patients experiencing delays in care
- Ask why your treatment is delayed and what risks may be associated with that delay.
- Ask if there are alternative chemotherapy treatments that can be used in the short term that do not require treatment in an infusion center or if care is available at a facility outside of the hospital.
- If visits to the infusion room are required, request appointments at off peak times and find out what precautions you should take in advance of the visit and while you are there. Many infusion centers are limiting visitors, find out what your treatment center’s policy is.
Colorectal cancer symptoms
Multiple symptoms or persistent symptoms lasting more than two weeks need to be evaluated by a physician. Don’t wait to call and talk to a medical professional about your concerns.
- Blood in your Stool
- Change in Bathroom Habits
- Unexplained Weight Loss
- Persistent Cramps or Low Back Pain
- Feeling Bloated
Patients looking for connection and support may find that in COLONTOWN, an online community of more than 100 “secret” groups (or neighborhoods) on Facebook. This community is an online home for colorectal patients, survivors, and their carepartners alike. Every neighborhood is nurtured by a Neighborhood Host (or several), themselves living the experience.
editor’s note, this post was updated on May 5, 2020, to reflect that many parts of the country are beginning to open up opportunities for elective procedures.